Childrearing

Mother-In-Laws Aren’t All Bad. Maybe Moms Have the Problem?

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Jane Fonda as mother-in-lawI recently invited my mother-in-law to take vacation with my husband, daughter and I. That’s right, I chose to have her there while I tried to travel with a three-year-old, one of the most stressful events of parenthood. It never even occurred to me that her presence would make the trip less enjoyable, just the opposite really. My mother-in-law and I get along wonderfully and I was pretty excited to introduce her to a city that I’ve loved since I was a teenager.

The typical MIL stereotype is a pushy and intrusive woman who never approves of what you do and constantly wishes that you were a little more like her. I’ve always felt intensely lucky that my husband’s mother wasn’t anything like that. She’s warm and kind. She’s never judgemental. Honestly, she’s almost too perfect.

Yet as our trip went on, I got a little more wary of this woman whom I’ve always had a close relationship with. Suddenly, my toddler was throwing a tantrum (as exhausted three-year-olds do after their third museum), and I just knew that mother-in-law didn’t approve of the way that I was handling things. I felt positive that she was frustrated with both of us, which only made me more stressed and my daughter more indignant. Once I’d calmed my little one down and we’d exited the museum, I said, “I know you would have handled that differently.” God bless her heart, she looked right at me and said, “Who on earth cares how I would handle anything? This is your family, Lindsay.”

She didn’t approve. She didn’t disapprove. She didn’t have an opinion at all, because she didn’t feel like it was her place to form one. And that’s when I realized that any tension in that museum had nothing to do with my mother-in-law and everything to do with my own insecurity.

Moms, in general, are a rather insecure bunch. Oh, we’re opinionated and judgemental, but I’ve always believed that it stemmed from the uncertainty of childrearing. We all just want to feel like we’re doing it right. We want to know that we’re doing what’s best for our children. And a lot of times, we reassure ourselves by making sure that everyone around us thinks the same way. That can manifest into a lot of defensiveness about our parenting choices.

If my suspicions are correct, maybe the persistent friction between mother-in-laws and women has less to do with monster-in-laws and more to do with our own insecurity. Maybe these women, who obviously raised decent children of their own, aren’t quite as disapproving as we often think. Sometimes, we might be just want reassurance that they aren’t capable of giving us. Or it’s possible that MILs, even if their children are grown, still just feel the need to defend their own parenting techniques by convincing us of their merits.

I realise that there are some truly awful horror stories out there about mother-in-laws who cross the line. I know that it’s always difficult to feel like another woman is watching over your shoulder, waiting for you to mess up. But at the same time, it’s sad to think that we spend so much energy disliking the women who raised our spouses. Even if we aren’t the same type of parents, I wish we could try to be more accepting of each other.

At the end of the day, is your mother-in-law really so horrible? Or is she just a different type of parent than you are? If it’s just your parenting style that separates you, maybe there’s a way to move past the insecurity and agree that you both just want what’s best for your family.